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Deeper learning through clever use of the Discussion Board

Last updated on 17 August 2022
Active blended learning means that students themselves have to independently get to grips with the subject matter. One way of encouraging self study is to have students formulate an opinion or solution to a case and to share this online so that everyone can learn from it. In this tip, you'll read how you can easily improve the effectiveness of this approach.

For active learning, it is important that students first individually immerse themselves in the subject in preparation for in-class activities within the framework of a flipped classroom approach. This activates prior knowledge and also encourages students to ask themselves questions about the subject. In our teaching tip 'How do you encourage students to do the self-study assignments', you can read some general tips on this.

By asking students to share the solution to a case, or their opinion on an article, with each others and the teacher before class, students learn more deeply and quickly during the in-class activities. For online sharing, Canvas' standard functionality can be used: the Canvas Discussion Board.

A challenge with this, however, is that with the standard settings of the Discussion Board, students can always read the answers of students who have completed this task. This has two negative effects.

Deep learning limited

Firstly, this situation can lead to students waiting until the last moment to submit their own answers. And that means less time for fellow students and the teacher to study these answers.

Secondly, it can lead to students not formulating their own answers first. This is unfortunate because the greatest learning benefit occurs when students first make a real attempt to formulate an answer using their own knowledge and skills (Inzlicht et al., 2018; Kuldas et al., 2014). Only when they then compare their answer with others can the strongest imprinting of knowledge - call it deep learning - take place.

The fact that students want to wait with their answers is in itself a normal human trait. People simply do not want to appear stupid and therefore like to know what others think, before they give their own solution or opinion. And there is also a natural tendency to attain required results with a minimum of effort.

How to deal with these negative effects? Read our tip below!

Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory - Mahatma Gandhi

Tip: Only show the answers of fellow students after the student has answered 

To minimise the above negative effects on learning, it is advisable to set up the Discussion Board so that students only see fellow students' answers after they have submitted their own. If students then compare their own answers with others, they will gain a better insight into their own knowledge and skills based on the differences and similarities.

This technical setting of the Discussion Board may cause some resistance among students. They may feel pressured or simply find it nonsense. Some of them might try to circumvent the problem by using the account of a fellow student who has already submitted the answer. Then the effect is lost.

That's why it's important to properly inform and convince the students of the purpose of the discussion topic: It is not about whether the answer given is (completely) correct, but rather that they have independently thought about the answer. And that this gives them the biggest gains in learning. If only for a greater chance of successfully completing the course.

How to set up the Canvas Discussion Board?

When creating a Discussion Board, tick the option 'Users must post before seeing replies'. The text, image or video, including the question, will be placed in the topic and the student can always read it. The student responds with a 'Reply'. Only after sending the reply, the student can see the replies of fellow students.

Other digital support

Another way to support the process of studying the learning materials, is by using one of the functions of FeedbackFruits Interactive Document, Comprehension of Document of using Perusall.

Sources

Inzlicht, M., Shenhav, A., & Olivola, C. Y. (2018). The Effort Paradox: Effort Is Both Costly and Valued. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 22(4), 337–349. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2018.01.007 

Kuldas, S., Satyen, L., Ismail, H., & Hashim, S. (2014). Greater Cognitive Effort for Better Learning: Tailoring an Instructional Design for Learners with Different Levels of Knowledge and Motivation. Psychologica Belgica, 54(4), 350–373. https://doi.org/10.5334/pb.aw

This teaching tip is provided by VU NT&L and LEARN! Academy.